Leadership Learnings from the Pandemic


Leslie GrossmanLeslie Grossman, Founder, Her Circle Leadership, and Faculty director, Women’s Leadership, GWU-Center for Excellence in Public Leadership

When we are confined to our homes, time can seem infinite. Even if you are juggling homeschooling with working, taking some quiet time to look inward and outward to what’s possible in the future is time well spent. As leaders – and we are all leaders of our own lives as well as others’ – we make professional progress by observing the leadership lessons we see in action. Watch and listen to leaders during this crisis and you will see what works effectively and what does not.

Courageous leadership is hard to come by most, but it is perhaps the most critical type of leadership when times are tough. A signature of a courageous leader is direct communication, empathy and immediate, thoughtful action.

I wrote a blog early in this crisis about lessons learned by observing Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. Two more examples of fearless leadership were cited in The Harvard Business Review; New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Commissioner of the National Basketball Association Adam Silver.

Prime Minister Ardern’s response was bold and her straightforward communication engendered public support. She is credited with having minimized the catastrophic impact of the virus on New Zealand by her early, honest, direct and caring communication to the public spawning nationwide trust and compliance to early national lockdown efforts. She also enabled widespread testing capabilities and implemented other strategies. New Zealand continues its’ lockdown even with the virus subsiding. She is determined to shut the virus down.  

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver  took the then-surprising step of suspending the professional basketball league for the season in mid-March.  A decision that was considered radical at that time and caused negative reactions. His decision created a ripple effect with other sports organizations following his example to cancel events. Both leaders’ courageous quick decisions were made at the risk of public anger. Both undoubtedly saved countless lives. 

Courageous leaders make decisions for the greater good – no matter whether it is a community, a country, a business or the world. They communicate directly, transparently with caring and empathy and in so doing build trust among their constituents and beyond. Their courage inspires others to follow their lead. How can each of us become more courageous leaders – both at home and in our work?  How can we better communicate directly and with empathy to our constituents? We are leaders at home and at work. During this pandemic, and when we come out of it, we must bring forth all the tools we have to impact and set an example for others to become courageous leaders.

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